Employer best-practice in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace

Grevis Beard
June 27, 2018

As you may know, the latest impact of our current post-Weinstein awareness of sexual harassment has been the announcement last week by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, of a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

It was interesting to note that Commissioner Jenkins specifically identified that “the global conversation about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement has exposed the true prevalence of the problem and the harm it causes to individuals, workplaces and society”.

The National Inquiry will involve an in-depth examination of sexual harassment in the workplace with nation-wide consultation and extensive research.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting the fourth national survey into workplace sexual harassment and has flagged that its results, to be released in August, will demonstrate that sexual harassment rates in Australian workplaces have increased significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2012.

It is sobering to realise that the breadth and reach of modern communication about workplace rights and obligations and campaigns including the #MeToo movement, (or in Spain recently the #Cuéntalo (tell your story) movement) have not translated into greater compliance, it seems.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) inquiry and its recommendations are therefore extremely timely. Commissioner Jenkins has noted that in making their recommendations, they will “consider the changing work environment and existing good practice being undertaken by employers to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.”

Employer best practice in preventing sexual harassment at work

Without of course wishing to pre-empt some of the many recommendations which the review will identify, here’s Worklogic’s suggestions on what best practice for employers in this area includes:

1. Leadership Training

Best practice employers train managers and supervisors to understand that they not only ‘walk the talk’ in how they behave, but that they are the front line for responding to any concerns of disrespectful and inappropriate behaviour. Too often, managers lack the specific skills to know how and when to intervene appropriately. We are finding a lot of traction with our skills-based leadership training. Speaking about “living the values” is not the whole picture. Provide specific and practical skills for managers around how to communicate, intervene and uphold organisational policies. They will thank you for it.

2. Upstander Training

Best practice employers train all staff on how to be an upstander. The HREOC telephone survey found that half of the Australian workforce are not upstanders, but rather bystanders. This culture of passivity, fear and/or “it’s not my problem” helps prolong a culture where bad behaviour can go on without accountability. Again, specific and helpful skills for how to appropriately respond and deal with inappropriate behaviour means that the workplace has a whole of lot of early responders who can direct and respond to tricky situations early on, fostering a culture truly in line with organisational values.

3. More Workplace Reviews (and less reliance on formal complaints)

Too often, workplaces take the view that “no one has lodged a formal complaint, so everything is fine”. This is an unreliable assumption; particularly given most people who are sexually harassed do not come forward. Best practice is for employers to ensure they are truly across the ‘lived reality’ for employees, by getting out there and asking questions, particularly if there is a sense that there may be an issue lurking beneath the surface. Providing a forum like a workplace culture review where staff can safely discuss concerns can really identify if there is a need to take steps to improve.

4. A risk compliance approach is applied to people risk.

Best-practice employers identify where there may be some risk factors for when and how people may behave badly, and manage that risk. So often, the interplay of alcohol, social workplace events, social apps, travelling remotely and/or an international conference can lead to a concatenation of events where people act rashly, irrationally or recklessly. Identify and educate what employees need to consider when in such situations. Clearly articulate organisational values and develop (and enforce) robust policies that clearly outline expectations about acceptable behaviour at work.

The HREOC review will of course provide a wide range of recommendations. We look forward to the research findings and how it can benefit all employers and employees to contribute to a safe, productive and civilised workplace culture for all.

About Grevis Beard

Grevis Beard, WorklogicGrevis Beard is the co-founder and Director of Worklogic and has amassed significant knowledge of the dynamics of workplace disputes and their resolution from more than a decade’s experience at Worklogic. Grevis works with a range of clients to improve workplace communication and behaviour, manage workplace risks and handle complaints  by conducting workplace investigationsmediations and reviews.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work.  Please contact Grevis for an obligation-free, confidential discussion on any challenges you face in the workplace.

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